If all goes well, Ukraine will once again be able to export the millions of tonnes of cereals it produces and which feed a large part of the planet. If everything goes well? Let’s be clear: this means as long as Russia keeps its commitments and promises, and as long as bombs do not inadvertently fall on cargo ships full of wheat or barley which should soon leave the ports of the region from Odessa.
The agreement signed on Friday, everyone likes to point out, is essential. The global supply system, as it has become, makes millions of people, often the most vulnerable, dependent on Ukrainian agriculture, and above all on a market that is as stable as possible. Antonio Guterres, the head of the UN, is telling the truth: the arrangements signed on Friday between Russia and Ukraine, under the aegis of Turkey and the United Nations, are therefore “an agreement for the world”. Millions of African children threatened by famine are grateful to him.
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But the scope of the agreement ends there. Even if it fully materialized – which is still far from certain – it would not end the mad war launched by Moscow against its Ukrainian neighbor. Much more: the Russian army continues at the same time to plunder, when it can, Ukrainian cereals, which it exports to friends, such as Syrian President Bashar el-Assad; it steals or destroys tractors and combine harvesters; it endlessly burns Ukrainian fields with incendiary bombs, apparently for no reason. There is one, however: the war launched by Russia is taking place at all levels, and the “food weapon” is entirely part of the panoply of the aggressor.
The Ukrainian authorities are suspicious, of course. On Friday, in Istanbul, they even refused to share the table or even the text of the agreement with their Russian enemies: two separate documents were signed, one after the other, even causing the Turkish protocol chief. For the Kremlin, beyond a question of image – the specter of a world famine has bad press – it is also a question of defending its own interests by hoping to export more easily, thanks to this agreement, the products Russian agricultural products and fertilizers, which the planet also badly needs. It is also a lever of pressure for Moscow: in the long term, it would not be impossible to see Russia claiming the same rights as Ukraine for its ships in Mariupol, or other ports in southern Ukraine conquered in bloodshed by Russian troops.
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By winning – at least temporarily – the naval battle of the Black Sea, Ukraine gains some respite. But no one has any illusions: after the summer, the fighting threatens to intensify further. This is whether or not the contents of the farmers’ silos have been successfully exported.